Schwartz calls for gas extraction tax as 2014 Pa. candidates list platforms
September 5, 2013 4:00 AM
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U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz
By James O'Toole Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The list of what the Democratic contenders for governor oppose starts with the incumbent Republican, Gov. Tom Corbett. Exactly what they are for is just beginning to emerge as the field takes shape more than a year before the 2014 election.
John Hanger, the former Public Utility Commission member and Department of Environmental Protection secretary, has issued a litany of proposals, most recently a college tuition plan modeled after an Oregon program that would provide tuition breaks for early college years and tie loan repayments to a percentage of recipients' income. Among Mr. Hanger's other early proposals are calls for more funding for education, an expansion of Medicaid, a merger of PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission, and $1 billion in capital spending for the state's water and sewer infrastructure.
Katie McGinty, his predecessor at DEP during the Rendell administration, last week called for in increase in the state minimum wage to $9 an hour, the same level cited by President Barack Obama in his proposal for a national revision in the wage floor.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Montgomery County, called for a new 5 percent levy on the value of national gas production, while criticizing the local impact fee enacted under Mr. Corbett as a bad deal for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
In a conference call with reporters, she said that a 5 percent tax would yield $612 million in its first year, with the state's revenue climbing past $2 billion within a decade.
Disputing administration arguments, she insisted that the new tax would not drive drillers into competing states. She noted that the 5 percent rate in her proposal would match the existing levy in neighboring West Virginia and be lower than the 7 percent charged in the traditional energy states of Texas and Oklahoma.
The plan drew immediate criticism from Mr. Corbett's allies in the state Republican Party.
"Pennsylvanians don't want to move backwards and they already know we can't tax our way to prosperity," Robert Gleason, the GOP's state chairman, said in a statement. "Rep. Allyson Schwartz's plan shows how out of touch she is with Pennsylvanians because she obviously doesn't care about the 200,000 family-sustaining jobs the natural gas industry supports and would like to see them move to another state."
The Gleason statement also attempted to tie Ms. Schwartz to the Democratic State Committee's recent vote calling for a moratorium on gas fracking in the state.
But speaking to reporters earlier, the congresswoman reiterated her opposition to the party official's vote, a pro-drilling position, that with qualifications, is shared by the other major contenders for the Democratic nomination.
The other declared Democratic candidates include Tom Wolf, a businessman and former state revenue secretary. The issues page on his website includes a call for universal pre-kindergarten education and notes his opposition to privatization of state lottery operations.
State Treasurer Rob McCord is expected to join the Democratic contenders to challenge Mr. Corbett within the next few weeks.
Former Auditor General Jack Wagner also has said that he is considering the race, but has yet to make a public decision on his potential candidacy.